A piece of my childhood passed away this week. I guess we all are a little guilty of liking some of the stupidest shows to ever appear on television but nobody of my generation will ever hear the first few bars of Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” without thinking of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, that shufflin brutha on The Gong Show who used to make the whole family erupt and dance all over the living room laughing at him and Chuck Barris dance.
His real name was Eugene Patton and he was a stage hand at NBC Studios- the first African-American member of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, Local 33. Eugene became a crowd favorite dancing before the taping of The Gong Show and during commercial breaks. Chuck Barris thought it would be a kick to let him dance on air and-BEHOLD, a 70’s Cult Classic was born.
No matter whose house we were at, young and old alike would leap from the floor and the couch when Gene would dance. All of us catching our breath from laughter when the show would finally break to commercial. I suppose there are a lot of things that can be said about the TV exploitation of black folk back in those days but the truth is, Gene didn’t play a pimp or a drug dealer or a thug. Yes maybe he played into the stereotype of the shoe shuffling or tap dancing black man, but I didn’t think about that then, and I sho nuff don’t care to think about it now…. because Gene Gene the Dancing Machine was pure joy in my poor broke ass childhood.
There is so much more I wish I could say, but I just danced with him to the YouTube clip I added below, and if I don’t stop now to catch my breath, I will be resting in peace with him. God bless you Eugene Patton. No greater legacy can I say of your life, than that your presence made us smile… even now thinking about you and Basie “Jumpin’ at the Throne-side” lol -Neo Blaqness